Review: Bakon Bacon-Flavored Vodka

There are two schools of thought on Bakon — an honest-to-God bacon-flavored vodka — and never the twain shall meet.

One school says this is awesome, at a way to get that highly-prized bacon flavor into an alcoholic spirit.

The other school says it is disgusting.

I won’t be able to sway you either way, but I can give you some impressions at least.

First, do not try to drink Bakon straight. Distilled from potatoes in the U.S. and naturally flavored, the bacon essence here is much too powerful to be consumed this way. Intensely smoky and charcoal-like, it’s bitter and rough, ensuring that you have no hope of completing a single shot without substantial financial compensation.

Bakon realizes this, surely, and offers two standby recipes for the spirit. I tried them both. The first is a chocolate bacon martini, which I couldn’t get down despite loads of whipped cream and chocolate liqueur. The other is considerably better: Using Bakon in a Bloody Mary. Here, the bacon flavor doesn’t become so overpowering, and it manages to complement the tomato juice and spices fairly well. It’s more subtle, but comes across pretty clearly in the aftertaste — if you really love bacon, I have to say this is a winner.

That said, hanging on to Bakon just for the occasional Bloody Mary may not be worth the expense and shelf space. But, like I said, it’s a decision that I’ll never be able to make for you.

B / $30 /

Affordable Dessert Wine Roundup

With party season getting underway, it’s time to look at dessert wines, no? (OK, so party season is nowhere near arriving, but these wines have been sitting here all year and I finally had the time to properly review them.)

This hodgepodge of wines basically have nothing in common except higher alcohol (usually), sweetness (some more than others), and the instruction to drink them after dinner. And they’re all under 30 bucks.

Thoughts follow.

2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise Le Chant des Griolles – Quite a mouthful for a Muscat, this relatively simple dessert wine from France offers a mere 15% alcohol and moderate sweetness. The body is citrus, with some backbone, a peachy/orange character intense with floral aromatics. The finish is a bit off, too meaty, but overall it’s solid for a muscat. B+ / $29 (375ml)

2008 Carlo Pellegrino Passito di Pantelleria – A Sicilian wine from the Zibbibo grape, this is more intense than standard Muscat, but still easy drinking. Lots of aromatics, with a bit of a harsh finish. Still, a bargain for Passito. 15% alcohol. B / $25 (750ml)

2008 Chateau de Jau Muscat de Rivesaltes (pictured) – Another French Muscat, it’s the lightest of the bunch, with a distinct lemon character (perhaps that’s why there’s a photo of a lemon on the bottle). Perhaps not decadent enough to stand up to a big dessert, it’s likely a better pairing with cheese or even before dinner. 15% alcohol. B+ / $19 (500ml)

2007 Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage – A big French red, but one that tastes stronger than its actual 16% alcohol. It has a raspberry and strawberry punch to it, which plays well with the relatively moderate sweetness. A little simple for a Banyuls, perhaps, but fairly easygoing and harmless. B+ / $19 (500ml)

2002 Churchill’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto – A bit of an anomaly in this roundup, but hey, we’re not perfect here at Drinkhacker. 20% alcohol and a fine way to wrap up the roundup. A simple LBV Port, it’s lush with plum character and black cherries, but the body is on the light side for Port. A very nice value and something I wouldn’t hesitate to order by the glass with a chocolaty dessert. B+ / $28 (750ml)

Review: Ursus Vodka

Everyone needs a gimmick, but the vodka industry, where product is legion, needs it more than anyone.

Ursus Vodka, which hails from the Netherlands and is distilled “from grain,” is a budget brand with a trick: Like Coors Light’s newer bottles, the bears on the label turn from white to blue when it’s chilled. (It does take a bit of chilling: The label turns blue in the freezer, but not in the refrigerator.)

In addition to a standard vodka, there are three flavored versions, two of which I sampled for review.

Ursus Vodka (unflavored) is a standard 80 proof, basically unremarkable in any way. Strongly medicinal on the nose and moderately harsh on the palate, it’s lightly sweet but with a lot of bite and a rough finish. Probably suited only for mixing bulk drinks. C-

Ursus Blue Raspberry Vodka is the color of that stuff they disinfect combs in at the cleaners, which is probably how it will be used: To add blueness to a cocktail when no blue curacao is available. Sweet but not horribly so, it’s a cross between real raspberry and cough syrup that may be satisfying to ultra sweet tooths. The finish coats the mouth in a slightly disturbing way. 60 proof. C-

Ursus Green Apple Vodka is the Scope to Blue Raspberry’s comb disinfecting liquid, color-wise anyway. Scope flavor would be an improvement, actually. The nose has no apple character at all; it’s more akin to some kind of industrial cleaning fluid. A touch of Apple-flavored Kool-Aid in the body does very little for this spirit, which is almost unbearable to actually drink, harsh and offensive. I hate to be quite  blunt, but it’s one of the worst products I’ve sampled in the history of this blog. 60 proof. F

each $11 / no website

World’s Strongest Beer Concocted

At 120 proof, or 60% alcohol, is it really a beer? $45 will get you a third of a liter and, probably, a trip to the ER.

A Dutch brewer with a penchant for competition has laid claim to creating the world’s strongest brew: a beer that is some 60 percent alcohol by volume.

“You don’t drink it like beer, but like a cocktail — in a nice whisky or cognac glass,” brewer Jan Nijboer told Dutch news agency ANP.

Nijboer’s Almere-based brewery, ‘t Koelschip (The Refrigerated Ship), sells the new beer, which is 120 proof and dubbed “Start the Future,” in a one-third liter bottle for 35 euros ($45) each.

Nijboer told ANP he developed the new brew to keep up with Scottish outfits that were also pushing the boundaries of beer’s alcohol content.

Review: Tequila Avion

This new brand hails from New York, where a former Seagram exec decided to strike out on his own in the brave new world of tequila. As the story goes, founder Ken Austin scoured Jalisco for the best spirit that hadn’t made it to the U.S., and found it on the highest agave plantation in the area, where the agave was being slow-roasted at low temperatures in order to keep a mellow, sweet character in the resulting spirit.

The result is Avion, bottled from this mysterious source (and even ready in reposado and anejo versions) and ready for sale in the U.S.

I tasted all three varieties during an Avion visit to San Francisco recently and have sampled the Silver on its own later — only reconfirming my thoughts about this solid, top-shelf product.

All are 100% agave and 80 proof.

Tequila Avion Silver – Sweeter than the blanco you’re probably used to, with a buttery body and fruity notes of pineapple and lemon. Herbs and some agave kick in for the finish, which is smooth and without almost any bite at all. Gorgeous. A / $45

Tequila Avion Reposado – Aged 6 months, quite long for a reposado, which gives it impressive caramel and vanilla notes, which play well with the agave in the body. It’s surprisingly light in color for a spirit with a flavor this rich, while also disarming in its complexity. A / $50

Tequila Avion Anejo – A masterpiece. Aged two years, giving it huge vanilla and cinnamon character, with notes of nougat, chocolate, and fresh cookies. Maple syrup lines the finish, but all the way it is nothing but smoothness. A beautiful, old tequila that can stand up to the big boys’ anejos — and extra anejos. Also an absurd bargain considering the quality. A+ / $55

Tasting Report: Del Dotto Winery and Caves

Do you want to taste some seriously “lights out*” wines? Look no further than Del Dotto, a postmodern institution along Napa’s main wine trail, and the proprietor of a tour I’ve been hearing about for years as a “must experience” event.

This weekend I finally summoned up the courage and paid the whopping $50 to take the hour-long tour into Del Dotto’s wine caves — really more like a walk down a long hallway, I guess — and the experience will not soon be forgotten.

No, not because of the wines, which are invariably over-oaked and incredibly intense and heavy with alcohol, the blatant house style here — although some are quite good.

No, it’s the winery that you won’t soon forget. Overdone with frescoes, columns, balustrades, cornices, and other forms of overdone architecture not often seen in modern America, Del Dotto is a gaudy throwback to a time that has never actually existed. And lest Del Dotto’s faux-talian inspiration not prove readily apparent upon entry, the soaring — pumpingly loud, really — vocals of Andrea Bocelli, piped into the tasting room and the caves via a dozen amplifiers, are ominpresent and impossible to ignore.

The winery’s guides are earnest and try their best to be heard over the tenor’s crooning, and they really do seem to believe the patter they are selling — that using heavily toasted oak and spending nearly two years in a barrel is the right way to treat a wine, no matter what varietal it is, and sure enough, the winery has its fans. It only sells direct, never appearing at retail.

Along the tour, all wines are tasted straight from the barrel, and the guides are generous. Thoughts on everything we sampled follow.

Del Dotto Winery Tasting Report

2006 Del Dotto Cave Blend / $49 / B+ / soft, with chocolate/blueberry notes, lush body

2008 Del Dotto Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Cinghiale Vineyard / $75 / B- / jammy, overdone

2008 Del Dotto Sangiovese Napa Valley / $49 / A- / velvety, with herbal notes, unlike Italian sangiovese in any way

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Lot X / $65 / B / incredibly rich and smoky

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Lot R / $65 / B+ / more floral on the nose, but lots of wood; tart finish

2007 Del Dotto Cave Blend / $49 / B- / minty

2008 Del Dotto Estate Merlot Rutherford / $58 / A- / a return to form for merlot, lots of cocoa and blueberry notes

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Mountain DV10 Block 2 / $125 / B+ / woody with a hard finish

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Mountain D254 Block 1 / $125 / A / much better balance

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard 887 St. Helena / $125 / A- / heavy jam notes, but solid

NV Del Dotto Zinfandel/Syrah Port / $75 / A- / whiskey notes, intense

* A phrase of uncertain origin but meaning “great” which we picked up during our tour here.

Review: El Jimador “New Mix” Tequila Cocktails

“New Mix” is not a slogan stuck on the can of El Jimador’s ready-to-drink tequila cocktails. It’s the actual name of the product: New Mix.

Hugely popular in Mexico, New Mix now comes in five flavors. We’ve had the first three flavors sitting in the fridge literally for months, and finally we are getting around to cracking them open to see what all the fuss is about. (We’re still not sure.)

Each is 5 percent alcohol and is made with actual tequila. The drinks are lightly carbonated.

Thoughts in each follow.

El Jimador New Mix Margarita looks like a lemon-lime soda, and frankly tastes like it too. The fizzy concoction is solid soft drink up front, then you get that tequila bite in the finish. There’s not much of it, but it’s noticeable. That said, this tastes almost nothing like a margarita (with none of the flavor of triple sec that it claims to have), but a lot more like a Seven-and-Tequila, but I guess that wouldn’t look as good on the label. C

El Jimador New Mix Paloma – A paloma is traditionally a grapefruit soda and tequila cocktail, and this rendition does at least smell like grapefruit when you crack open the can. The flavor is a little funkier than that, though — less grapefruit and more of a canned fruit salad. Less tequila bite than the margarita New Mix, which in this case is not a great thing. C-

El Jimador New Mix Spicy Mango Margarita – It’s not an orange crush in that can, it’s a spicy mango margarita! El Jimador radically overreaches here, pulling off something that is more reminiscent of Red Bull than anything that bears resemblance to spice, mango, or margarita. No idea where this one came from or why it exists. D

Review: Bohemia Clasica Beer

Yes, Virginia, there is more beer in Mexico than Corona.

Don’t be fooled by the dark, squat bottle. Bohemia is a fairly simple pilsner, a light gold beer that offers a nice, easy-drinking balance of sweet and bitter. There’s a distinct note of gingerbread on the nose, which is quite pleasing, and the body comes across as very fresh and full of life. The finish brings some bitterness, though the finale can run to the watery instead of the crisp.

Altogether this is a solid effort. Not quite Pacifico, but a good, food-friendly beer that is almost ubiquitous in its availability.

B+ / $14 per 12-pack /

Review: Balcones Distilling Baby Blue and Rumble

The uninitiated may think of Texas as the frontier, a place where whiskey is probably as common as water. Not so: In fact, for years, Tito’s has been the state’s only legal distillery.

Now a few upstarts are coming out of the skunkworks, and the state has its first whiskey since Prohibition. Operating out of Waco, Texas, Balcones Distilling doesn’t just make the first whiskey in the state, it also makes, as far as anyone can tell, the only whiskey made from blue corn — in this case, Atole, a Hopi blue corn meal. The distillery’s first two products — Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky, and an odd offshoot, Balcones Rumble — are reviewed below.

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky – Wow, intense. Clearly a young corn-based whisky without a lot of time in the barrel. The starchy character (“white dog,” in the parlance) is overpowering on the nose alone, with a huge, grainy body and a finish redolent of petrol. Some sweetness makes this drinkable, but like so many younger whiskies, it isn’t easy going. Why this wasn’t left in the barrel for another three or four years is a mystery to me. Batch BB10-10. 92 proof. C / $45 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Balcones Rumble – Perhaps aware that Baby Blue was not made for easy consumption, Balcones created Rumble, not exactly a liqueur (it’s a serious 94 proof) but close enough. Made from Texas wildflower honey, Turbinado sugar, and Mission figs, Rumble looks like whiskey but tastes like something else. That Balcones corniness is apparent on the nose, but it’s a much sweeter spirit on the whole. Only the fig character really comes through, the rest is mainly a sweeter version of Baby Blue. Batch R10-10. C+ / $36  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Update 2/2013: Tasted new releases of both of these products, with considerably different notes, especially for Rumble, which (at least now) is far more worthwhile than this review would indicate. Hopefully, new reviews coming soon.

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Review: 2007 Chateau d’Aiguilhe Comtes von Neipperg

This is Bordeaux? This blend of 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Franc has an intense, New World character that does not feel like Bordeaux at all. Ripe with black currants and thick plum character, the Merlot shines through, and the tannins, in just a few years, have mellowed into a silky and smooth texture. Chocolate and a touch of leather and tobacco rush the finish. Shocking balance and richness in a wine of this price, and none of that overwhelming earth that so many Bordeaux wines succumb to. That this wine costs a mere $20 is almost criminal. Snap it up.

A / $20 /